Countless times throughout any given day we are holding onto thoughts that say “I need something that I don’t have” or “I am here in this situation or process, and I want to be there.” Maybe it’s about acquiring a new skill or increasing your proficiency with one you already have. Maybe it’s about changing or strengthening the quality of a relationship that you’re unsatisfied with. Maybe it’s about reducing the stress or frustration you feel about other people’s behavior. When the situation you’re in presents a risk and triggers big emotions, you arrive at the tip of two diverging paths: one that indulges your propensity to react, and one that engages your ability to respond.
The default in any situation that involves tension, alarm, or discomfort (no matter how big or small) will be to react; humans are first driven by the part of our brain that scans for danger and pushes fight, flight, freeze, and appease feelings and actions to the forefront in order to protect us. If we don’t know how to move past that initial emotional reaction we stay in survival mode and start to inhabit our fear-based, limited perspective. Our inner guard dog, trained to see threats, shows up and positions us to remain combative, defensive, or anxious. It keeps us on well-worn paths of unconscious behaviors, and traps us in blame and worry stories about ourselves or others that are most likely not true.
We start to craft a response when we are able to feel and accept our emotional reaction, and then add it to a larger set of knowledge about ourself, others, and the situation at hand. From that bigger perspective we can shape our response further by digging deeper into the circumstances that created the situation (including our own role in it), defining desirable end results, and then choosing how we want to show up and achieve them. What follows is our response.
Reaction impulsively seeks protection that ultimately gets us stuck, response intentionally seeks understanding that leads to creativity and forward momentum.
The behaviors related to responding and reacting look very different when you’re in a situation that presents that gap between where you are and where you want to be.
|You’re Responding If You Are:||You’re Reacting If You Are:|
|Strategizing to solve problems||Strategizing to prove your position|
|Generating possibilities||Limiting or shutting down possibilities|
|Leaning into your vulnerability and taking risks||Making excuses|
|Connecting with people able to support or guide you||Isolating yourself or connecting with commiserators|
|Normalizing discomfort||Trying to avoid discomfort|
|Understanding and utilizing emotions||Getting taken on a ride by emotions|
|Grounded in and guided by purpose & values||Subject to seeking external expectations & validation|
|Authoring your future||Playing a prescribed role|
|Owning the part you played that got you here||Blaming others for what got you here|
|Exercising choice and agency||Claiming powerlessness and helplessness|
|Asking questions and sharing understanding||Monologuing and getting defensive|
|Challenging default behaviors/thoughts/biases||Passively exhibiting default behaviors/thoughts/biases|
|Seeking a truth bigger than your own point of view||Convinced your truth is the truth|
|Adopting a student or beginner mindset||Adopting an expert mindset|
|Seeing the situation over time and in 3D||Focusing on a linear, cause-and-effect narrative|
|Taking a patient and mindful approach||Acting hastily and impetuously|
Teams and individuals that are conditioned to stay trapped in reactive mode sustain environments that amplify fear, blame, and stagnancy. Those that consistently exercise their “ability to respond” sustain environments where innovation, growth, and engagement thrive. They are able to define a future they want to inhabit and find a way to realize it despite the natural twists, stalls, and obstacles encountered along the way. Here’s the thing: Taking Responsibility isn’t inherently easier or harder than passively reacting, both require an investment of time and energy. You’re going to go on an adventure either way, grow your instinct to plot the course that pays off.
What situations are you reacting in right now? What are the first few steps you could take to shift you into a response approach?
What situations are you responding in right now? What did you do to get yourself into that mindset?
Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.
Article, 4 minute read
15 Practices for Staying on the Path of Mastery
By Brad Stulberg
“Immersing yourself deeply in the process of growth and development for its own sake is a wonderful way to enrich your life.” Yes, there are 15 practices for this. Yes, they will all have a measurable and meaningful impact on your life if you weave them into the way you live it.
Article, 8 minute read
This Clock Doesn’t Tell the Time…can it tell me how to spend it?
By Zahra Davidson
If you’ve ever needed a creative way to help you manage your time more intentionally (and put your focus and effort where it will make a difference), Zahra Davidson has a project for you…
One thought on “Choose Your Own Adventure: Response or Reaction?”
Thanks Becky, great insight!